The Evolution of the European Union

The Evolution of the European Union

The History of the EU from its post WWII beginnings to the present day

With the United Kingdom (UK) voting to leave the European Union (EU) in the referendum held on 23 June, here is a look back at the evolution of the 28 nation single currency (Euro) bloc.


1947: Marshall Plan introduced to support Europe’s post World War II economic revival

In the aftermath of WWII, Europe faced high levels of economic instability. In order to aid the redevelopment of Western Europe, US Secretary of State George Marshall pushed for an aid plan.

The European Recovery Act, signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1948, authorized the spending of around $12bn over four years to support the economies of 16 European countries.


1951: Formation of the European Coal and Steel Community

The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), formed by French foreign minister Robert Schuman and diplomat Jean Monnet, was Europe’s 1st attempt to create a common market overseen by a supra-national authority.

By binding the states together, the ECSC minimised the likelihood of another war breaking out. The treaty was signed by six countries – France, West Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.


1957-1962: Development of the Common Market

In Y 1957, the same six countries signed the Treaty of Rome, which created a common market for labor, capital and goods and services. A further Common Agricultural Policy was created in Y 1962.

By this time, all the Western European countries but the UK were democracies with deep ties and posed a strong front to the Soviet bloc in the East. The Berlin Wall was built in Y 1961, symbolizing the divide between the Communist East and Capitalist West.


1968: Street Warfare

In Y 1968, the region’s younger generation took to the streets of Paris, Rome, Milan and West Berlin, calling for greater democracy, an end to the Vietnam War and a more libertarian, egalitarian society.

I was in Milan and Paris at that time and saw the unrest up front and close. PE

Meanwhile, Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring.

1973: The Crude Oil Shock

Denmark, Ireland and the UK joined the European Union on 1 January 1973, raising the number of member states to 9.

The decision by the OPEC nations to restrict Crude Oil supplies caused a dramatic increase in Oil prices and marked the end of the long postwar economic boom in Europe.

In order to boost competitiveness and economic growth during this difficult time, the EU regional policy started transferring huge sums of money to create jobs and infrastructure in poorer areas.

The European Parliament increased its influence in EU affairs and in Y 1979 all citizens could, for the 1st time, elect their members directly.


1979: Modern era of Britain’s Conservative Euroscepticism

High levels of discontent in the UK about the country’s membership in the EU led to the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in 1979. Thatcher’s implacable opposition to the idea of “ever-greater Union” launched the modern era of ‘Conservative Euroscepticism’.

However, her support for the single market and enlargement of the Union to the east were equally supported by the EU and provided a contradiction to her stance on the Union.

During the 1980’s, right wing Euroscepticism became progressively more radical in its rejection of the EU.


1980-1989: Fall of the Berlin Wall

In Y 1981, Greece became the 10th member of the EU, and Spain and Portugal followed 5 years later.

In Y 1986, the Single European Act was signed, providing the foundation for a 6-year progam which aimed to sort out problems with the free flow of trade across the EU and create a ‘single market’.

In November 1989, the Berlin Wall was pulled down, opening the border between East and West Germany after 28 years. This led to the reunification of Germany in Y 1990.

1990-1999: Development of the Single Market

With the collapse of Communism across Central and Eastern Europe, Europeans became closer neighbors.

In Y 1993, the single currency market (Euro) was completed with the movement of goods, services, people and money across the bloc.

The 1990’s also saw the signing of 2 treaties: the ‘Maastricht’ Treaty on the European Union in Y 1993 and the Treaty of Amsterdam in Y 1999.

In Y 1995, the EU gained 3 more new members: Austria, Finland and Sweden.

The decade ended with the launch of a single currency, the Euro and all member states but the UK, Sweden and Denmark joined it. Currently 19 member states use the Euro, which is the 2nd-biggest reserve currency in the world.

2000-2009: Growth of the EU with 13 new member states

In Y 2004, the EU had its largest single enlargement, in terms of people and countries. Up to 10 new countries joined the Union: Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

2 more countries, Bulgaria and Romania, also joined the EU in Y 2007.

The financial crisis of Y’s 2008-09 drew severe criticism regarding the absence of a common banking system overseeing the governance of the Euro.

The debt crisis and consequent policies led to a recession hitting certain European countries particularly badly. These countries include: Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

This period of uncertainty led to a rise again in ‘Euroscepticism’ and a resurgence of Nationalism.


2010-Present: The UK votes to leave the EU

In response to calls for greater fiscal governance, the EU banking union was created in Y 2012. This transferred the responsibility for banking policies from the national level to the bloc level in several countries.

The EU was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Y 2012 for having “contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe” for over 6 decades.

After Slovenia, Croatia became the 2nd ex-Yugoslavian country to join the EU in Y 2013.

Increasing instability in the Middle East from Y’s 2014-2016 led many to flee their homes and seek refuge in Europe. The added pressure of having open borders within the EU during the refugee crisis caused an increasing sense of ‘Euroscepticism’ among certain member states.

Specifically in the UK, growing support for the UK Independence Party, demonstrated the growing ‘Euroscepticism’ in the country.

In a historic referendum held on 23 June 2016 in the UK, voters decided to leave with a majority of 51.9% after 43 years with the bloc.

By Natasha Malik

Paul Ebeling, Editor

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